Saturday, December 6, 2008


Hermes, or Mercury as the Romans called him, was the fleet footed messenger of the gods, the crosser of boundaries, as well as the god of commerce and information. I think his appearance in this post is apt.

Here is an example of how the old library self-image is working to our detriment. Say I want information on Giordano Bruno. I am a card holder for three local systems. I tried this experiment at the two public libraries.

At Chesterfield County Public Library:
1)open browser
2)type in library website
3)click databases
4)click on Biography Resource Center
[click back because I forgot to go to the proxy authentication]
4)click on the authentication link
it seems that the proxy server is down, dead end

At Henrico County Public Library
1)open browser
2)type in library website
3)click databases
4)click authentication link for Biography Resource Center
5)type in barcode and submit
6)type giordano bruno
7)chose from results

The internet
1)open browser
3)type giordano bruno and submit

If I did not already know the URL for Wikipedia, It happens to be the first hit on a Google search.

The lesson here is this: The valuable and expensive resources that the library makes available are not easy to use. The internet is laughably easy to use. Don't like anecdotal evidence? Again let me refer you to the 2005 Perceptions study from OCLC. People were asked to choose between Search Engines or Libraries over a range of categories. As you look at these numbers, think about this quote from George Needham's speech at the Library of Virginia (see Art, December 2 below for more on this).
It strikes me that these are the attributes that most people would consider to be the most important these days in our time-challenged world. Think about this when you are driving home tonight: if you need a loaf of bread or a quart of milk, are you going to stop at the very best, finest, most trustworthy supermarket in your county, or are you going to stop at the one where you don’t need to make a left turn?

Here are the results:
AttributesLibrariesSearch Engines
Trustworthy/credible sources60%40%
Accurate, quality information56%44%
Reliable/always available28%72%
Easy to use15%85%

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